By Khánh Vân
Fancy a particular brand of perfume?
If you do, be warned.
If you are part of the civil service sector in the capital city, you might soon end up on the wrong side of the etiquette newly drawn up for public servants.
The use of “improper” perfumes and sporting tattoos are just a few of the don’ts in a draft list of dos and don’ts released by municipal authorities recently.
The list also tells Hanoians not to spit, urinate, use bad language or dress indecently.
The draft etiquette compiled by the municipal Department of Culture and Tourism will take effect on January 1, if approved. It means there are just a few days more for some public servants to change their dress and make-up habits, among other things.
Department Director Tô Văn Động said the rules are just guidelines for behaviour expected of public servants, aimed at improving the public service sector’s image.
That this image can do with some refurbishing cannot be questioned.
A recent survey carried out by the Hà Nội National University and the city’s culture department showed 95 per cent of respondents saying public servants do not behave properly.
However, the draft etiquette almost immediately sparked an outraged public response, and civil servants were at the forefront in expressing the outrage.
The heart of the objection is this: such “rules” violate citizens’ rights, and public servants are citizens, too. As long as they don’t break the law, public servants have the same rights, more so when it comes to sartorial preferences and what they do with their bodies, whether it is piercing, yes, piercing, or tattoos.
We boast, with some justification, about our nation’s cultural diversity. Can we look down on the dress habits or rituals of ethnic minorities? No. We actually find them beautiful and want to promote them.
It was not so long ago that Vietnamese society as whole looked down at tattoos as something belonging to the criminal class. Those impressions have gone out the window now, haven’t they?
Like many women, I love to make up and use fragrance. It makes me feel more beautiful and attractive, and confident. And I have every right to do it for myself. There is a saying: "There is no such thing as an ugly woman - there are only the ones who do not know how to make themselves attractive."
So why do I have to limit making up or using fragrance to make me beautiful just because I am a public servant?
Nguyễn Thu Hương (not her real name), who works for the Bách Khoa Ward People’s Committee in Hai Bà Trưng District, said she’s had a tattoo on her shoulder for two years, and it has not had any impact on her work.
“I love tattoos. Having a tattoo is just something among many things you like to do. It does not define your personality or limit you competency,” she said.
“I only show the tattoo when I am at home or going out with my friends. I always cover it at work so it does not matter if I have a tattoo or not.
“And what matters the most when I am a public servant is how I work and I how I behave, not how I look.”
Associate Professor Trịnh Hòa Bình from the Institute of Sociology also felt this new code was not needed.
Public servants are regulated by other laws, including regulations set by agencies that employ them, Bình said.
Coming back to the survey, it cannot be denied that when some public servant is rude and insufferable, or corrupt, people think of it as soon as they are asked a question about public servants’ behaviour. And several instances add up to create a negative image, whether it is a Government car driving rashly through the streets or cases of massive corruption.
In October this year, an official of the Hà Nội’s Transport Department shocked and angered the public when he hit a female airline employee on her head at the Nội Bài International Airport. He was banned from flying by the Civil Authority of Việt Nam and disciplined by his employer.
Such punishments are tough enough to deter similar behaviour.
By itself, a code for public servants can help improve the image of public servants. But it has to be one that is relevant, reasonable and feasible.
It is difficult to go into details of what to wear or not, whether a skirt is too short or long, and so on, and from there on to supervising the implementation of such conditions.
The public and public servants will be better served if measures are taken to improve the latter’s professional skills and capacities. Judging how they dress or make-up is not just a waste of time and public resources, it is an unacceptable infringement of personal space. — VNS